I had an elderly maiden aunt who regularly took ‘The People’s Friend’, a weekly that satisfied any requirement she had for romance. I’m sure she thought lust brought one out in pimples.
My mother and father had a Victorian upbringing that shunned public displays of affection. There was no emotion in front of the children. In their view, any display also weakened their defences against the public at large. I’m sure they agreed with the Edwardian actress, Mrs Patrick Campbell, who said,” I don’t care what people do so long as they don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.”
As a young boy growing up in the streets, terms of endearment were limited to, “If you show me yours, I’ll show you mine.” I didn’t go to romantic films in the cinema; I preferred ‘blood and guts’. It therefore took me time to be more subtle. Humphry Bogart in Casablanca, “Here’s looking at you kid,” was as romantic as I could stand.
During sixty years of marriage I became more human but the change took effort and training. It was love not romance. This involved deep understanding and commitment, mainly on the part of my wife. In the end, it included finishing each other’s sentences instinctively. It’s something I miss since she died. There is a lack of completeness. My family help but it’s not the same. I still find myself looking for agreement.
My father, two of his brothers and two of his sisters served in the forces during the Great War. One brother, in the navy, was killed in action and my father got the Military Medal for an action in France which he wouldn’t talk about. “It came with the rations”, was all he would say. One sister was engaged to a Canadian who was killed on Vimy Ridge. Such an event wasn’t uncommon for that generation. The war did as much emotional as physical damage.
The other sister was luckier. She married a Welsh soldier she’d nursed when he was wounded. He was an incorrigible exhibitionist who died of a heart attack demonstrating his version of the ‘Highland fling’ on Dunoon Pier. He’d made a successful career selling women’s fashions. At an earlier period he’d been a commercial traveller. To say he travelled in women’s clothing would be to convey a misunderstanding.
At this stage in my life, my love for my family is the most important thing for me. However, in a more abstract way, I love life although it is getting a bit frayed at the edges. If I lost my mobility, I’d probably find life a bit of a drag. I certainly don’t want to be a burden to my family.
If I wrote about love, it would certainly not be courtly love. It would be about sharing and cleaning children’s faces and other parts, It would also be about solidarity between parents in defending each other from the cannibalistic tendencies of children, who eat divided parents alive. In general, life with my wife was pragmatic rather than romantic. It involved the process of growing together, not glossy but deeply loving.